Once the meat-and-potatoes mainstay of middle America, roast beef doesn't often appear on dinner tables in a big hunk anymore. Blame it on the health-food trend, a more hurried lifestyle or a taste for more sophisticated dishes. In any case, the singular pleasure of a juicy roast beef paired with simple sides such as steamed carrots and roasted potatoes deserves to make a comeback in your kitchen. Yorkshire pudding captures the savory flavor of the meaty drippings from your perfect roast beef in a puff of souffle-like muffins. Though commonly served on a leisurely Sunday or for the holidays in Great Britain, the easy preparation means you can enjoy this festive dish on an ordinary Wednesday if you choose.
Choosing the Beef
Buy a bone-in rib roast for maximum flavor and the greatest visual effect. Or choose a top or bottom round roast for a more economical meal. Splurge on USDA Prime if you can, but don't opt for less than Choice. Look for a dark red color, which indicates desirable aging, and a thick covering of fat, which adds flavor and prevents the meat from drying out during cooking. This layer can be removed before serving so no need to worry too much about excess fat. You also want to see marbling, or small slivers of fat running through the flesh, which again adds flavor and preserves moisture.
Plan to purchase one rib per two people, or at least 1/2 pound per person if you want leftovers. Generally, to feed four to six people, look for a 5.5-pound bone-in roast or a 3-pound boneless cut. Don't worry about buying too much as cold roast beef makes great sandwiches.
Cooking the Beef
Let the beef come to room temperature before you put it in the oven. Stand the roast in a pan, and season it generously with salt and pepper to taste. Start the beef in a hot oven at 425 F for the first 30 minutes, then lower the temperature to 375 F for the remaining time. Cook it to your preferred temperature using the following time recommendations:
- Rare: 11 minutes per pound
- Medium: 14 minutes per pound
- Well: 16 minutes per pound
You can test the temperature with a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the beef. For safety, USDA guidelines recommend cooking roasts to a minimum of 145 degrees, with at least a 3-minute rest after you pull it from the oven. Keep in mind that the temperature will increase another 5 to 10 degrees as it rests, however, so you can pull it slightly below your target temperature. The following range provides guidelines for the degree of doneness:
- Rare: 120 F
- Medium: 145 F
- Well: 165 F
Resting the Beef
Though USDA guidelines suggest a three-minute rest, a roast generally benefits from a longer recovery period. Place it on a warm platter and tent it loosely with foil, then set it aside for up to 20 minutes which is conveniently the amount of time you need to cook the Yorkshire pudding. The muscle fibers in meat contract during cooking and resting allows them to relax, redistributing some of the meat juices (great for the gravy) and resulting in a more tender piece of meat.